Covid vaccines are once again under the spotlight, following the release of two bombshell reports which revealed a spike in deaths in Australia and New Zealand in recent years.
A recent article published by The Exposé, a UK-based website which is known to spread Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation, recently claimed excess deaths in New Zealand increased by 3203 per cent from 2020 to 2022 due to Covid jabs.
However, this allegation was confirmed to be false by AAP FactCheck, with experts insisting that alarming figure was based on a “nonsensical calculation” and that vaccines did not cause a jump in deaths.
Meanwhile, in Australia, a new study released this week found Australia was experiencing its highest excess mortality rates in over 80 years.
According to the Actuaries Institute, there was a 12 per cent increase in excess deaths in 2022, mostly among those aged over 65. Of the additional 20,000 deaths, 10,300 were attributed to Covid-19 – and in another 2900 deaths, the virus was a contributing factor.
The remaining 6600 excess deaths were not related to Covid-19, with ischaemic heart disease and cancer being the most common causes, leading to 2020 and 970 excess deaths respectively.
Spokeswoman Karen Cutter said researchers believe Covid probably still contributed to many of the unexplained deaths for three main reasons.
“Firstly, mortality risk is higher subsequent to an acute [SARS-CoV-2] infection, and most Australians have now had Covid-19,” she said.
There were 6600 excess deaths that were not related to Covid-19 in Australia from 2020 to 2022. Picture: Gaye Gerard/NCA NewsWire
“Secondly, people have not accessed medical care when needed, either through inability (in emergency situations) or through fear/lack of opportunity (thus missing routine care earlier in the pandemic).
“Lastly, some of these deaths could be undiagnosed Covid-19 deaths.”
While anti-vaxxers have seized on both reports as so-called “proof” of the dangers of vaccines, two of Australia’s leading vaccine experts have come out swinging, hitting out at the vaccine misinformation.
The head of Monash University’s epidemiological modelling unit, Associate Professor James Trauer, told news.com.au that “virtually none” of the excess deaths were due to vaccines.
“I can’t say none of it, because a tiny handful of deaths were due to vaccines, but we understand the causes of this increase in death rates, and essentially, vaccines have not contributed,” he said, adding they were explained largely by Covid itself, and by a natural increase in death rates in countries like Australia and New Zealand with ageing populations.
“Age makes a huge difference to the death rate, which for ages 70-plus is manyfold higher than what it is for children. As the population ages, the death rate will increase.
“In a lot of high income countries, you see an increase in death rates overall, just through the population ageing,” he explained.
Dr Trauer said that even if there were some issues associated with the vaccines, they were “totally masked by the huge effect of the massive Covid epidemic”.
“It’s important to say that vaccines are a medication that do have side effects, and in the case of Covid vaccines, the side effects can cause severe illness and in very, very rare cases can lead to death,” he said.
Anti-vaxxers have jumped on the reports to claim they prove vaccines are dangerous. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images
“But we had a situation where we rolled out vaccines to a huge proportion of the population – millions and millions of people were vaccinated, and even though [side effects] are something that might happen in the order of one in a million, when side effects occur with those sorts of [vaccination] rates you … will have a handful of people getting severe outcomes.”
Dr Trauer said a range of factors likely caused those unexplained excess deaths, including long Covid and other health issues linked to a previous Covid infection, as well “mortality displacement” – a relatively common phenomenon that involves death rates picking up following a period of low death rates, such as after a smaller than normal flu season.
“If you look back at the last few years, up until 2019, things were pretty normal with death rates increasing slowly as the population got bigger and older,” he said.
“Then in 2020 there was a big dip in death rates because we had no flu and no Covid in Australia … and in 2021 there were still big dips as we delivered the greatest number of vaccines, so clearly it was not the vaccines that were increasing mortality at the population level.
“If that was the case, we would have seen higher deaths in 2021 when there was no Covid in Australia and we had a huge vaccination program. Then in 2022 vaccinations began to decline and we had a huge Covid epidemic, and mortality shoots up.
“That’s the pattern, and it’s totally consistent with everything we’d expect.”
Australian National University professor Peter Collignon, an infectious disease expert who previously worked for the World Health Organisation, also told news.com.au that any vaccine-related deaths were “pretty minimal” and that “for any death that might be attributed to vaccines, thousands could have been prevented”.
“If you look at 80-year-olds, before the vaccines were available, one-in-10 people infected with Covid died,” he said, although he acknowledged that number was far lower for 30-year-olds.
Experts say the spike in deaths are easily explained by the pandemic and related restrictions. Picture: Christian Gilles/NCA NewsWire
“Death rates also came down with Omicron, but essentially you had quite a high death rate from Covid, particularly for 80-year-olds.
“ … For every drug and vaccine we have, there are some bad effects, but there are different death rates for different ages.
“For example, AstraZeneca was much more of a problem for younger females, while Pfizer and the mRNA vaccines were more of a problem for younger males aged 15 to 40.
“There’s some risk for every age group but … the vaccine benefits far outweighed the [risk] and decreased the death rate at least tenfold if not twentyfold.”
Prof Collignon said problems caused by vaccines were “very rare” and that excess deaths from vaccines and drugs were “minimal” compared with those caused by the virus itself, especially among an unprotected and unvaccinated population.
“You just have to look at the US, Canada and Europe in 2020 and 2021 pre-vaccine – there were huge death rates compared with what happened afterwards,” he said.
“People make comments that there are more deaths now after the vaccine which is true, but for Australia, it was the first time the virus was circulating. So deaths would likely have been 10 to 20 times higher if 95 per cent of adults weren’t vaccinated.”
He said other excess deaths could have been caused by undiagnosed Covid infections, a lack of access to medical care during lockdowns and restrictions and behavioural changes such as excess drinking during the pandemic.
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“Look at Sweden – they didn’t have lockdowns, and I was critical of that – but their excess death rate is higher than Australia’s, but not much higher, and is better than the US, UK and probably Germany, which did have more restrictions,” Prof Collignon said.
“I feel very confident … that while there were some excess deaths, they were very, very small compared to Covid and would have been worse if not for the vaccines.”